BALTIMORE, April 23 -- King Leatherbury, 72, one of three trainers in history to saddle more than 6,000 winners, won the $150,000 Federico Tesio Stakes for 3-year-olds Saturday with his tough chestnut Malibu Moonshine, and afterward there was as much action in the Pimlico winner's circle as on the racetrack.
Leatherbury, who dominated the claiming game in Maryland for years, winning or sharing in 26 meet titles at Pimlico between 1974 and 1997, is an unabashed gambler, although he considered Malibu Moonshine a sure thing in the Tesio after the colt won the Private Terms Stakes on March 26 at Laurel Park.
With a cameraman setting up for a post-race interview, Leatherbury paid off a $200 bet that his horse would go off the favorite over New York shipper Byanosejoe.
"I can't believe people were betting on that New York horse," Leatherbury said of Byanosejoe, who finished an unthreatening third at odds of 3-5.
A few minutes later, Leatherbury dug a fistful of winning tickets out of his pocket, including a $20 triple ticket likely to recoup that lost $200 several times over.
"I don't usually bet more than $200, but I thought he would win," Leatherbury said. "I just love him. People said, 'Good luck.' I said, 'I don't want to use up all my luck on this.' "
Malibu Moonshine has put Leatherbury back in the spotlight and poised for his fourth try at the Preakness Stakes. After racing under a stout hold by jockey Steve Hamilton along the rail around the first turn, the son of hot sire Mailbu Moon steadily advanced until swinging wide on the far turn and running down leader Hello Jerry.
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile race was an unexceptional 1 minute 53.31 seconds, well off the blistering 1:49.62 turned by Presidentialaffair a race later in winning the $200,000 Jim McKay Breeders' Cup Handicap for older horses. Still, Leatherbury didn't rule out a run in the Preakness, even though he realistically sees Malibu Moonshine a cut below the top 3-year-olds in the country.
"You've got to beat so much better horses," Leatherbury said. "Nick Zito, good lord. It's just a whole different class. If we figure we can run third or fourth, we'll probably run. The thing that entices you into that is there's only one Preakness; there are $75,000 races all year long."
Leatherbury, who once ran together four consecutive 300-win seasons, fell on hard times in recent years, winning just 41 races in 2002 and 37 the following year. With an infusion of quality horses from Woodrow Marriott and several other owners, however, he is experiencing a renaissance.
"I was down in skid row there," Leatherbury joked.
The absence of the dapper Marriott, 91, from the winner's circle was the lone damper on the victory. A founding brother of the Marriott hotel empire, Marriott has been in the hospital the past two weeks fighting pneumonia.
"It's a very serious thing," Leatherbury said, "but he's a tough old man."
JIM MCKAY BREEDERS' CUP: Presidentialaffair hadn't raced since winning the Maryland Million Classic last October, but he was more than ready for the $200,000 race, burying four other talented handicap horses in a tour de force 7½-length victory.